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     April 3, 2017      #18-92 a2z

Inside the state's best student vet team

Robert Themer

For the past four years, the Central High School FFA team has won the state competition in veterinary science, after placing third in the first year of the competition.

"We will be heading off to the national competition again in October," said vocational agriculture teacher Brett Sorensen, whose work includes teaching a yearlong veterinary science course and coaching the FFA team.

Each state can send only one team to the national competition and at least 25 Illinois teams have competed for the honor.

This year's team from Central included Samantha Randals, Logan Meier, Tony Dupuis and Dakota Basham.

Students compete at each of eight stations. First, they take a very broad ranging multiple choice test on animal science and veterinary science issues.

Then, they take math tests that could include calculating the correct dosage of medication for animals based on their weight or converting an animal's temperature from centigrade to Fahrenheit.

They have written "prompts" — scenarios they have to respond to with the correct way to do something. For example, how to properly sanitize the kennel of a dog that had parvovirus. They are expected to know if a hypothetical response was wrong.

"It can really be anything you would find in a veterinary medicine career," Sorensen said. "It can cover anything from small animals, like rats and chinchillas, to cattle and horses."

After they complete written prompts, they have stations of identification. One is identification of veterinary tools. They would have 10 tools displayed out of a list of about 120 tools. Next is to identify parasites, based on photographs — 10 from a possible 36.

Then, they face the challenge of breed identification — again a random 10 selected from about 200 different animal breeds they can be expected to know.

There's clinical and handling activities, where the team member has to go through stations with a judge and perform skills they are expected to know — "anything from filling a syringe to preparing a dog for a jugular venipuncture (taking blood from the jugular vein) to tying a temporary halter on a horse."

The national contest is basically the same, but with an added team event. All students have to prepare for a couple scenarios — what would they do in the place of an actual vet.

All students in Sorensen's veterinary science class are required to prepare for the competition and the top four are selected for the state team, with a couple alternates who also compete at state. A single alternate is allowed for the national team, but competes only if one of the top four becomes ill or can't make the trip.

At state this year, "there were probably about 120 individuals competing," he said.

All 50 states and Puerto Rico are allowed to send one team to the national competition. Last year, the Central team finished 29th.

In the classroom

The vet science class meets for 90 minutes every other day — 90 days in the school year, but activities continue throughout the summer.

The vet science team does a fair amount of extra work on their own, Sorensen said.

Every student has an iPad to keep track of class-related activities.

"Probably preparing for the nationals we will put in another 100 hours, I guess." They'll visit the Illinois State University Farm where "the pre-vet professor will set up a kind of mock contest for us," he said.

Community services are involved.

"A couple years ago, we actually started testing for parasites," he said. "Livestock producers will bring in fecal samples and we will test them for parasites."

"Are we going to deworm my pigs?" asked Cody Rollins. "Possibly," said Sorensen. "It's a lot easier with all of us," Rollins replies. He has 13 pigs, plus goats, rabbits and ducks.

On the day of the Daily Journal's visit, Sorensen brought in the two huge Grand Pyrenees sheepdogs, Moe and Pudge, which he and his father, Dennis (Central ag teacher before him), use to guard their sheep herd at home,

He teaches toenail clipping and grooming with the gentle giants.

"We attempt to listen to their hearts and lungs, but with the thick fur, that is difficult."

"We created a clinic last year," he said. "We will do other dogs and cats and we'll get homeless dogs and cats adopted."

They also "work on dogs, pigs, sheep, goats," he said. "Whatever turns up, we'll tackle. The only thing we haven't had in is cattle."

Three years ago, the district received a $15,000 grant from the state's facilitation coordination in agriculture education program and bought an ultrasound machine to check for pregnancy in sheep and goats, an autoclave for sterilizing their equipment and a centrifuge primarily for preparing fecal samples for parasites.

Vet science students deserve props

I was an active member of the Clifton Central FFA throughout my four years of high school. Though I wasn't very good at the math and science at the core of most agriculture classes, my love for animals kept me involved. I was the chapter sentinel my junior year, and the chapter vice president when I was a senior.  

When I found out the school was adding a veterinary science class, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. I spent most of my childhood playing doctor with my stuffed animals, and loved the idea of spending 90 minutes every other day learning about the care and keeping of real animals.  

I was in for a shock when I took the class my junior year. This vet stuff was hard. We had multiple quizzes each week, had to learn the anatomy of dozens of different animals, memorized the countless breeds of different species, learned how to suture wounds and even tested real fecal samples for parasites. Yuck. It was not the childhood dream I had imagined.  

I have a lot of respect for the kids who excel at the veterinary science competitions. This is not something you can forget about once you leave the classroom. These kids study for hours outside of school, intern for veterinarians and even practice in the summertime. Good luck to the Clifton Central Vet Science team at nationals.

~ Courtney Wolfe

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